The Edale Job
by David Michael
Daniel lit a cigarette while
he waited for his legs to recover from the steep climb up to Edale Moor. A halo of sweat ringed the neck of his navy blue
T-shirt, and his hair, untouched by the wind that had been buffeting the slope, was stuck to his head in a state of sweaty
adhesion. With his free hand he lifted a handful of dry T-shirt and dabbed the salty beads that were clinging from his brow.
He looked westward where the footpath continued. He saw a treeless, boggy moor that was featureless except for the odd clump
of heather that dotted the moor here and there. The landscape was a depressive portrait of purples and browns, instead of
the lively reds and greens that the sun would’ve bestowed had it not been lurking behind a filter of overcast grey.
No walkers appeared to be in the vicinity. He was quite alone.
He stubbed his cigarette out
and put the filtered nub back into the cigarette packet. Daniel despised random littering, and was mindful of such matters;
he often forced complete strangers to pick up their own rubbish – even escorting the perpetrators to the nearest bin
to ensure the rubbish was disposed of correctly. It was just a matter of looking at them the right way. Although of a short
stature he had a piercing, dark-eyed glare that, accentuated by his meeting eyebrows, suggested he was either demonically
possessed or mentally ill.
It was the glare alone that’d
gotten him his job, working for one of the biggest criminals in Birmingham. He remembered the time his boss plucked him off
the street in Solihull. “You’ve got the look I need,” he’d said from the back of his Mercedes, and
there and then offered him the job of debt collector and general bruiser. But nowadays the boss was more interested in acquiring
and selling antiquities than snapping off people’s fingers for loan repayments, which was why Daniel had been given
the job of laying out the ground work for removing the monolith from Edale Moor.
He left the path and trudged
across the sodden earth. He was immediately struck by the sparseness of wildlife. No birds. No hares. Nothing. Except midges.
Thick, dark clouds of the small mosquitoes hovered dreamily and silently over the peat.
Daniel retrieved his compass
and took a bearing. He ambled in a north-easterly direction and was careful to stay between the dark green patches of bitter-smelling
peat, for the juicy, bog-like vegetation didn’t appear favourable to the weight of a person. On his way he came across
an empty packet of Monster Munch gliding across the peat. He pocketed the litter, cursing the filthy bastard that had mindlessly
After five minutes of solid
walking he stopped. He couldn’t see the stone. He strained his eyes and tried to survey the distant ground, but the
clouds of midges acted like an external cataract, impeding his sight. Regardless, he continued his way northeast. But as Daniel
penetrated further between the clouds of midges, a tangible feeling of claustrophobia began to creep into him.
The thought of turning back
crossed his mind. He could always say that there was nothing up here but a couple of dog turds and a few empty beer cans;
his Ordinance Survey map would back him up on that score. It showed no standing stone anywhere on Edale Moor. The only proof
that there was anything of the kind up here was a single page in a dilapidated hardback from the 1880s entitled Standing Stones
of the Peak. Inside it had featured a fanciful (and seemingly ubiquitous when it came to standing stones) story of a medieval
warlock who’d not only had it in for the people of Edale, but humanity in general, and so made a pact with the Devil
to destroy the world. Inevitably, the locals had gotten wind of their little scheme and sent for a preacher, who eventually
chased the warlock onto the moor and subsequently turned the evildoer into stone by waving a Bible in his face. Hence the
presence of a standing stone on Edale Moor. Or not.
But then again, it wasn’t
as if standing stones dropped from trees, was it? Especially ones that were small enough to be hauled away within a single
night. He quashed the thought of turning back from his mind. The money on this job was too good to miss, anyway.
Daniel peered into the haze
of midges again. He saw a blurry picture of the moor that reminded him of his old television set – the one with the
screwed up aerial that guaranteed whatever he viewed was mostly static. Because of the living fog that floated above the moor
he would have to rely solely on his compass for direction. He checked his heading with the instrument.
Daniel didn’t notice
the object on the ground until his boot hit it. For a moment it glided through the air like a football. It bounced onto the
thick mattress of the peat, and Daniel recognised it as the skeletal remains of a small animal, possibly a rabbit or a hare.
Immediately the midges reacted.
In one swift, fluid motion a cluster of the insects migrated from the peat and swarmed around Daniel. He stopped dead. He
remembered hearing how it was better to remain still if you were attacked by a swarm of bees, because it confused their perception
or something. Maybe it would work with midges, as well.
It didn’t. The midges
steadfastly remained with him, smothering him. They mutely hovered a few inches away from the contours of his body, appearing
to cast his mould. None of them seemed to be biting him; they seemed to conspire in silence instead. Probingly, he reached
a hand into the insectile mass, but they instantly created a space for his arm and lingered around the limb, respectfully
keeping their distance. Daniel didn’t know a lot about insects, but this didn’t seem right. This didn’t
seem right at all. His feeling of claustrophobia went up a level: Daniel was now suffocating.
“Sod this!” he
shouted and, closing his eyes, he bent forward and rammed his body head first through the cloak of midges; for a fleeting
moment he felt their tiny bodies hitting him, spattering against his head and shoulders and hands. In legion, their presence
had real substance, like that of a scram-net being thrown onto him. Once clear of the all-encompassing midges, he resumed
walking. He brushed his hands spasmodically through his hair and, in the same erratic fashion, swept his shoulders to rid
himself of any remnants of the insect blizzard.
sake!” Daniel muttered to himself, brushing the tiny bodies from his T-shirt. The ones that hit the sweat patches proved
more stubborn, and were simply rubbed into the cotton fabric to create a morbid pattern of brown specks around the collar.
He shook his head in anger. “There had better be a stone on this moor somewhere!”
It occurred to him that the
midges had vanished. Not only had he run through the blizzard he’d also run through the fog, which was now behind him,
and in front it was clear. A measure of relief surged through Daniel. The feeling was akin to entering the calm of a nice,
warm house after escaping the ferocity of a bitterly-cold snow storm.
Not far away he spotted the
standing stone: a grey blip in the flat-line of the brown horizon.Yes!
Beyond the stone Daniel could
see something lying in the peat. From a distance it appeared to be a black bin bag, bulging with rubbish. Christ, he thought.
He was damned if he was going to drag that down off the moor. Nevertheless, he made a mental note to interrogate any passers-by
that he hereon encountered on the moor.
The stone was about the height
of a man and in the same general shape as a phallus. Embedded in the earth, it had a mottled exterior that was indicative
of its age, for like the Pyramids of Giza, it too was ancient to the Ancients. The monolith had weathered the elements of
several thousand years and sported numerous lime-coloured patches that bore testament to the amount of bird shit that had
frequently pelted it.
Daniel took out his mobile
phone and selected his boss’s number. After two rings his boss said, “Speak to me, Dan.” The voice was deep
and had a commanding tone to it. The man’s voice was even deeper through a phone, Daniel had often noticed.
“Hiya, boss. The stone’s
Daniel began pacing to and
fro, as was the habit whenever he used a mobile phone outdoors. He informed his boss of the stone’s condition and size
and began elaborating on its extraction. “Getting it out of the earth shouldn’t be problem,” he said, wildly
gesticulating with his other hand as though his boss were there to subliminally absorb the body language. “And no one’s
going to see us up here, so we can take all the time we need. Plus when we get off the moor there’s a switch-back path
that zigzags all the way down the hill to Edale village, so gravity’s on our side there.”
“Good, good. How many
men you gonna need?”
“Er . . . usual amount,
boss. Half a dozen. A couple of quad bikes, as well.”
As Daniel walked back and
forth he noticed that the object past the stone wasn’t a rubbish bag at all. He could see midges, thousands of them,
starting to trickle off a bedraggled carcass on the ground. He watched as droves of the insects drifted away from it.
And straight towards the standing
Sporadically, the midges landed
on the grey skin of the monolith. Daniel thought nothing of the spectacle – it was clear to him that these midges were
the odd-balls of the insect world. As long as the bastards weren’t pestering him . . .
From out of Daniel’s
phone came a cavernous-sounding chuckle that was reminiscent of Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars; it was so deep it felt as though
his phone were vibrating against his ear. “What’s so funny, boss?”
His boss stopped laughing
and said, “Listen, Dan. You might bump into Pete on your way down. I asked him to give you a hand – thought he
could do with the exercise, you know what I mean?” He chuckled deeply again. Again, Daniel could have sworn the phone
trembled against his ear.
“Oh, right . . .”
Daniel said, watching another wave of midges roll over to the stone. Its surface was a darker grey now.
His boss ended the call in
his usual abrupt manner, without saying anything. Daniel simply heard an electronic click in his ear.
Pete Johnson was coming? Shit,
he thought. The boss had probably sent the tubby bastard to check up on him and make sure he went ahead with the ground work.
Pete Johnson was the boss’s grossly overweight assistant, and Daniel couldn’t stand the man.
Depressed, he gazed at the
remains of the animal on the ground. Probably a sheep or a goat, he reckoned. But it was difficult to tell because the animal
had been so plundered of its life force. It resembled nothing more than a white heap. Daniel turned to look at the stone.
It was black with midges.
“What the hell . . .”
The top half of the stone was completely encrusted with the insects. From where Daniel stood he gathered that the insectile
sheath was about half a centimetre thick. The black mass squirmed around, as the insects jostled for position, making a sickly,
sluicing sound that inexplicably planted an image of frogs’ spawn into Daniel’s mind.
Then, apparently dead, their
particle-like bodies suddenly cascaded down to the base of the monolith, settling like a circular pile of ash on the ground.
A crimson coating glistened in their place. The blood appeared thick and slimy, as though it were congealing. It shined for
the few seconds that it capped the stone. Then silently it diminished, as if . . .
It’s soaking up the
blood like it’s a sponge!Daniel’s mouth gaped open. His mobile phone was still in his right hand; unconsciously,
he gripped it tighter, until the LCD screen burst underneath the plastic glass.
In front of him the standing
stone seemed amorphous, fluctuating like a stirring chrysalis. And a new form emerged from the metamorphosis.
Or rather an old form. It
resembled a grey statue carved from solid granite – a man adorned in a hooded robe, his square-jawed face frozen in
a scowl that encompassed a myriad of different emotions. The figure glared at Daniel with a mixture of shock, hate, and indignation;
granite teeth were bared ferociously. The look made Daniel’s maniacal glare appear affable in comparison, to the point
that small children would have instantly warmed to him and showered him with cuddles.
Daniel figured that this had
something to do with the story about the warlock. He also figured now would be a good time to leave. He turned round. The
fog of midges still floated over the peat that he’d just crossed. Deciding it was worth the risk, he ran.
Like an enormous sloth, Pete
Johnson clawed his twenty-stone mass slowly up the hill, wheezing with each angina-inducing movement. After only five minutes
of ascending he collapsed onto a large boulder. Fat globules of sweat dropped from his face and splashed onto the granite
surface with the same force of a dripping tap. He could see his bulbous face gawping back at him from the shiny surface. He
merely uttered, “Ugh.”
He was dying. There was no
doubt in his mind, or his raging heart. His heart especially, for it seemed to be beating the shit out of his aching lungs
and ribs. For ten minutes the gangster’s assistant lay slumped over the boulder, breath rasping, expecting the imminent
arrival of the Grim Reaper.
When he was certain that Death
wasn’t coming, Pete rolled himself off the boulder and landed his hefty backside onto the dirt path, pounding the chalk
floor with a thump. He looked down the hill to the wooden gate where he began his climb fifteen minutes ago. It was thirty
feet away. “I could spit further than that,” he told himself.If Danny-boy could be trusted to do his job, I wouldn’t
have to be here. He could’ve been polishing the boss’s shoes instead of this shit. Pete liked the easy jobs.
He shifted his head to the
side and looked up the hill. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to climb up it, after all: Pete could see someone up there, coming
down the slope. Probably be Dan, he thought, as he watched the dark figure stomp purposefully down the zigzag path. If it
was, he was going really fast because he could see a trail of dirt rising in the man’s wake. Even from this distance,
Pete could gather that the man was moving with determination, that he was eager to do other things than hill walking on a
nice, dry day like this.
The figure got closer, and
Pete noted to his own bemusement that he appeared to be wearing a black robe, hood included. Just like those Benedictine monk
blokes, he thought, as he sat on the ground. But why would a monk be out walk . . . ?“JESUS!” With a sudden surge
of adrenalin, and with a speed that seemed supernatural, Pete Johnson sprang up from the dirt floor and sprinted down the
hill, moving faster that he’d ever done in his life. And despite his colossal weight, it would be a long time before
he stopped running.
The Grim Reaper was coming.
Michael Jones 2007